How to Write a Visual Analysis Essay [2022] + Free PDF Sample

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Art has always been a part of our society. Whether in school, work, or in our everyday activities, art has played an essential role in giving meaning and purpose to our lives. In fact, “high culture” has placed an enormous value on art pieces, which suggests the value of these works of men.

Accordingly, as part of our educational journey, learning how to write a visual analysis essay would help us appreciate how these art pieces are designed, made, and given meaning by the larger public.

In this article, I would like to give some fundamental tips on how to write a visual analysis essay. The succeeding sections would begin with answering “what is visual analysis,” followed by a closer look at how to write effectively and persuasively relative to the pieces being analyzed.

Finally, the author would like to provide a visual analysis example that you can use in practicing your writing skills.

However, before we proceed with this article, it would be best to know more about what an analytical essay is here.

I. Visual Analysis Definition

Knowing the definition of visual analysis is one of the keys to mastering it. By learning the definition of this paper, the writer can already focus his content, format, and writing angle on an appropriate and attractive topic. Thus, before we proceed with the guide on how to write a visual analysis essay, we must first answer the question, “what is visual analysis?”

What is Visual Analysis?

Strictly, a visual analysis is a process of studying an artwork’s visual elements, such as its texture, line, and strokes, among others. Thus, its main focus is the tangible or appreciable aspects of artwork as compared to its underlying context or even the psyche of the artist behind it.

One example of the strict application of visual analytical techniques is the analysis of Da Vinci’s brush strokes, which are characterized by their varying depth, curvedness, and even the degree of shadows used by the painter in each work of art.

However, some visual analysis essays also allow for some level of liberality wherein the artwork is analyzed in relation to the creator’s psyche or other external circumstances behind it. In this second approach, the visual elements of the art may be compared and contrasted with the existing themes during the creator’s time or even his psyche in order to provide a more holistic approach.

One example of this is a visual analysis of Van Gogh’s thick, dramatic strokes, which may have been affected by his exposure to the impressionist style of painting when he was still studying at the Brussel’s academy.

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II. How to Write a Visual Analysis Essay – Step-by-Step Guide

1. Find a Subject of Interest

Finding your subject is the first and most important thing in writing a visual analysis essay. Theoretically, anyone can write about any piece of art, considering that art exists almost anywhere in the world. You can write a visual analysis essay about a classical painting, a local sculpture, a TV advertisement, or even a social media advertising material. All of these are okay, considering they are all art forms.

However, if you are writing for an audience or even for a school essay, finding a unique, engaging, and ‘worthwhile’ subject should be a priority. As I said earlier, you can write about anything in your visual analysis essay, but what would be the point if your readers are not interested in it or are even completely off the topic.

To find a good visual analysis essay topic, one rule of thumb used by experienced writers is that such topic should be: (1) interesting, (2) appropriate, and (3) feasible.

a. Interesting

Every visual analysis essay should be interesting. Like any other writing task, your goal is to pique the interest of your readers and show them that your analysis of the subject matter will provide them with value. In other words, the subject matter and your analysis of its visual aspect should provide them with something they didn’t know before.

b. Appropriate

Although common sense would provide, your visual analysis should also be appropriate either to (1) the instructions provided or (2) your goal.

In my years of experience as an educator and a writer, there are a lot of students who would be able to write good pieces in terms of format and analysis, although they fail to follow simple instructions. This goes the same as writing for a blog post, an editorial piece, or a writing contest.

Simply said, you have to determine whether your subject is appropriate to your goal or aim in writing.

c. Feasible

Finally, your visual analysis essay topic should also be feasible regarding access to the subject and the amount of information you can glean from it.

For example, if you are analyzing Van Gogh’s Starry Night, you would most likely be able to satisfy these two since it’s easy to find precise and exact representations of the object and provide a comprehensive analysis of the visual elements of his painting. However, if you are writing about a local art piece that is simply a metal sphere with almost no embellishments, then you might find it more challenging to conduct a visual analysis of your subject.

2. Read Sources on Visual Elements

Reading about Visual Theory is the next step in writing a visual analysis essay. This is particularly essential for individuals who are not art majors or beginners in analyzing art pieces. Accordingly, good sources should provide a good overview of the various elements of visual analysis, including; (1) line, (2) color, (3) shape, (4) form, (5) value, (6) space, and (7) texture.

Seven Important Elements of Every Visual Analysis Essay

1. Line5. Shape
2. Color6. Space
3. Shape7. Texture
4. Form


If you are unfamiliar with these elements, I suggest checking out My Modern Met’s extensive discussion of these elements here.

3. Conduct your Visual Analysis

After having an overview of your subject and the basics of visual elements, you should begin analyzing your subject by incorporating what you have learned with what you can see.

One good piece of advice that artists would give is to create an outline with the seven (7) essential elements laid out and analyze each of them one by one. For example, the visual analysis essay outline provided below is taken from Pablo Picasso’s Girl Before a Mirror (1932).

Picasso's Girl Before a Mirror | How to Write a Visual Analysis Essay
Umland, Anne, and Pablo Picasso. Picasso: Girl Before a Mirror. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2012.

Visual Analysis Essay Outline

1. Line

  • “From the green discoloration on her forehead and darkening of her facial features to the lines showing that her young body has been distorted, and gravity has taken its rightful place.” Additionally, Picasso used a combination of both soft curves and hard-lined shapes.

2. Color

  • “Its primary subject is the time-honored artistic theme of a woman before her mirror, reinvented in strikingly modern terms. In a delicately blushing pink-lavender, the Girl’s smoothly painted profile abuts a heavily built-up and garishly colored frontal view in yellow and red”.

3. Shape

  • “Girl Before a Mirror was painted during Picasso’s Cubist period. Cubism was a style of painting popular in Paris at the turn of the century. Picasso was one of the founding fathers of the style. All parts of the painting are painted boldly with geometric patterns”.

4. Form

  • Since the Girl Before a Mirror is a painting, then its form is not created by having a certain measurable depth. Instead, it is created through texture and illusion.

5. Value

  • One side of the mirror, which represents the woman’s angelic face or her youth, is light, whereas the other, which represents her evil nature or old age, is characterized by darkness.

6. Space

  • “The girl subject is clearly the main focus of the work and takes up most of the space.”

7. Texture

  • “The texture of the painting shows circles and rectangles and much more which are there to show different parts and the human parts. The whole painting is smooth and clean but confusing because of the unfocused areas that make eyes unfocused.”


Although the visual analysis example provided above is merely an outline of your whole essay, it is clear that doing it this way would make it much more manageable. You can use the various elements as points in your composition or even as sub-headings to create an organized flow for your readers.

By the end of this article, you can also find a visual analysis example that you can use to practice your own writing.

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4. Polish and Finalize your Composition

Remember our discussion earlier about the importance of “appropriateness”? This is the part where you can use it. Since visual analysis essays may differ in terms of goal and instructions, then knowing if you can add more details or embellishments is a must before you do so. For example, if you think your audience would appreciate some background information about Picasso, then you can add the following points at the beginning of your essay.

As interesting as it is, Pablo Picasso’s Girl Before a Mirror is a portrait of his mistress and muse, Marie-Thérèse Walter. It is often believed that the latter is the reason for Picasso’s ‘etorically-charged paintings,’ which may be gleaned from the way the subject is depicted.


Congratulations! Now that you have polished and finalized your composition, I am confident that you have learned how to write a visual analysis essay that would be effective in captivating your audience.

Nonetheless, to help you learn more, the following section will provide a visual analysis example that you can download and use in your future works.

IV. Visual Analysis Essay Example

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